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CRUISING – SHORE EXCURSIONS - Organized Tour or Hiring a Car?
As you will have read in my shore excursion article, you will be offered a wide range of excursions at each of the ports you visit. They are usually excellent, but if you have a family to cater for it may be quite expensive. They don’t always offer exactly what you want, either, so you may pay for a trip that ends up with you spending too little time at the beach or at a place of interest, and too much time at the shops, or vice versa.
However, the main plus factor is that if you are on an excursion organized by the ship, no matter what happens to delay you, the ship will always wait for you. If you go it alone and something happens, you are on your own. The ship WILL sail without you and you will be liable for all the costs of getting you to the next available port by air – if that is possible. This will also mean an overnight stay or two – depending on whether the ship is at sea the next day or in a port – so add in hotel costs, and transport to and from the airport and hotel, as well as food. Of course, all your belongings will be sailing into the sunset, too, so all you will have is the clothes you stand up in. In these circumstances it is unlikely that your insurance will pick up the bill unless there is a very good reason for you missing the ship – just having to buy that last pair of designer shoes, and there being a long queue is NOT a good enough reason!
Booking an organized tour also means that everything will have been taken care of. All you have to do is board the coach and sit back and relax. You will have a guide to tell you all about the interesting places on the way, and probably a bit about the culture of the island, so it can be very interesting. If you book a day tour you will normally have food provided, but if it is a half day you will be back in time for lunch or afternoon tea.
But, on the other hand, if organized properly, and if you allow plenty of time for emergencies, hiring your own car will probably save you quite a lot of money, and you will be able to visit what YOU want, not what suits the tour operators. The main reason we started to ‘go it alone’ was just that – we went on a trip to Dunn’s River Falls, in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, a simply stunning trip, but had to almost run all the way down and back up this amazing waterfall, in order to catch the coach. Imagine our disappointment when, having had the briefest of paddles in the gorgeous waters of the Caribbean, we were then taken for a prolonged stop at a shopping mall which sold mainly diamonds. The tour operator, of course, gets a ‘cut’ from the shopkeepers by steering passengers into their shops. So we decided that, in future, if it was possible, we would organize our own trips, and since then have used different options in different ports – organized trips, or taxi or hiring a car.
With the use of the internet it is a simple matter to organize a hire car to pick up when you arrive at the various islands. The larger car hire companies, such as Hertz, do seem to have offices in many of the Caribbean islands so you can telephone them to discuss your needs and then book it before you travel. If you decide to do this, then make sure you take a note of the person you have been talking to, and if possible, get them to email you confirmation of your order. The islands of the Caribbean have a very laid back feel to them, which is one of the pleasures, but it does also mean that ‘no problem’ does not always mean efficiency, and with the best will in the world it does happen that bookings get mislaid or maybe never even filed! Doing your homework before is always worthwhile. We would recommend hiring a car in St Thomas, as the car hire depots are close to where the ships dock. Cozumel is another island where hire cars are easy to come by – but try to stick to one of the well known companies.
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